At the tender age of 33, Dr. Colby Shad Thaxton is already becoming a familiar name within the scientific community.
After spending less than one year conducting independent research in the Feinberg Department of Urology, Thaxton was named “Researcher of the Year” by Bioscience Technology magazine, is a 2009 recipient of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Early Physician-Scientist Award and was named one of the world’s top innovators under age 35 by MIT Technology Review (TR35).
Of course, Thaxton is no stranger to exceeding expectations. While studying to become a physician at Feinberg, he was inspired by an article on Dr. Chad Mirkin, director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology and Northwestern University professor of chemistry, chemical and biological engineering, biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering and medicine. Thaxton then applied for and received an HHMI medical student fellowship and spent the following year conducting research in Mirkin’s laboratory.
Ultimately, Thaxton simultaneously simultaneously completed his doctorate degree in the graduate school while a resident in the Urology Department.
Thaxton now conducts research in his own laboratory and has formed multiple collaborations with other Northwestern scientists in the pursuit of creating novel therapeutics that support the mission of translational science. His research currently focuses on using nanotechnology in areas such as improving prostate cancer diagnostics, producing effective therapies for bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers and creating new methods for treating cardiovascular disease.
What are your research interests?
I have two main interests, the first being the development of synthetic high density lipoproteins (HDL) as therapeutic agents for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, and the second being the use of nucleic acid functionalized gold nanoparticles as diagnostic and therapeutic agents for any number of disease processes, but specifically for cancer.
I have ongoing collaborations with Dr. Chad Mirkin in Evanston, Dr. Reed Omary in Radiology, as well as numerous other researchers on the Chicago campus who are interested in using these materials for a broad range of translational applications.
What projects are currently underway?
In addition to the work we are doing with Dr. Omary using nanoparticle-based therapeutics and interventional radiology techniques to treat liver cancer and pancreatic cancer, we are collaborating with a number of other researchers interested in applying this particular nanoparticle platform to their disease models of interest.
On the HDL side of things, we are currently fabricating a suite of materials that function similarly to HDL in that they have similar size, surface chemistry and tightly bind cholesterol. We are gaining an understanding of how to rationally tailor the surface of the particles to manipulate cholesterol binding.
Beyond materials synthesis and characterization, we are focusing on developing methods and assays for determining the biology of these interesting particles. Ultimately, what we want to know is, how do they function in biological systems? Do they traffic to the cells responsible for atherosclerosis and extract cholesterol from them? Do they work in animal models of atherosclerosis?
Why did you join the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine?
I have been a part of Northwestern for a long time; I came to Northwestern as a medical student and decided to stay due to the opportunities in nanotechnology research. There is a strong focus on nanotechnology and on maintaining Northwestern’s position as a leader in this field — particularly translational nanotechnology. Not only have I benefited from all the wonderful basic science research at Northwestern, but it’s exhilarating to be a part of the drive for bringing nanotechnology into the clinic.